This past summer's misguided reboot of Brideshead Revisited, all pretty to look at but dully obvious to think about, makes one long for the day when world class directors were making British costume dramas. Nowadays we get
[aside: You counter with "But Joe Wright!" to which I say "OK... but don't interrupt my train of thought!"]
Emma Thompson, a veteran of better earlier costume dramas, was a major bright spot in Brideshead. A little Emma can go a long way to rescuing a movie. When the movie itself is good a little Emma can go a long way to making it great.
Wisely, Emma even understands that a little Emma goes a long way. In signature performances like Howards End (1992) and Sense & Sensibility (1995) she tends to store up the emotion, focusing on nuance for the first two acts of her portrayal. When she finally does release it for dramatic affect, her climax is always galvanizing. Consider the mini explosion of Elinor Dashwood. Her heart is breaking...
Edward made his promise a long time ago, long before he met me. Though he may harbor some regrets, I believe he will be happy in the knowledge that he did his duty and kept his word. After all - after all that is bewitching in the idea of one's happiness depending entirely on one person, it is not always possible. We must accept. Edward will marry Lucy - and you and I will go home.Her sister Marianne (the vibrant Kate Winslet) who has a history of misunderstanding emotional temperaments different than her own, interjects, frustrated with what she sees as heartless resignation. This infuriates Elinor...
What do you know of my heart? What do you know of anything but your own suffering? For weeks, Marianne, I've had this pressing on me without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature. It was forced upon me by the very person whose prior claims ruined all my hopes. I have had to endure her exultation again and again whilst knowing myself to be divided from Edward forever. Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have produced proof enough of a broken heart even for you!Oh Elinor. Just as quickly as Emma let's Elinor's despair loose she pulls her back, portraying Elinor's personal programming with crystalline clarity. The subject of the scene is Elinor's quiet despair but it's Marianne who suddenly needs comforting. Elinor crosses the room with just a beat of annoyance and a whiff of unspoken self-lecture brushing her face. She holds her crying sister when she's the one that desperately needs to be held.
"When Subtlety Attacks!" could be the tagline of this Emma Thompson performance but it's also descriptive of Ang Lee's best films. They're so carefully measured and layered that when they finally do explode: the sex scenes in Lust, Caution, the kiss in Crouching Tiger, the break-up in Brokeback Mountain or that titular Ice Storm, it can pulverize the viewer. If they ever hold an Ang Lee or an Emma Thompson retrospective, that's the tagline they ought to consider.
Previously on Monologue Mondays (Season 2) Bay of Angels (1963), In Bruges (2008), Notes on a Scandal (2006), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Hitchcock in 1969, Velvet Goldmine (1998), Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), Eastern Promises (2007) and A Mighty Heart (2007) (Season 1) Blade Runner (1982), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Bring It On (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Sideways (2004), Bull Durham (1988), Trainspotting (1996), Addams Family Values (1993), American Psycho (2000), Tootsie (1982), Strange Days (1995) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)